Let's clean out the notebook ...
• First, I have to let you know that the story on Thomas Ward last Sunday was actually a package, and we decided to make the second story a web-only story, found at mountaineagle.com and called, "Ward Leaves Behind Mentoring Program." (The fact that there would be more to report shows how talented, mature and impressionable this young man is. You forget sometimes he is only 17. Everyone in Jasper is pleasantly surprised in meeting him, and I have no doubt reporters covering a campaign will be looking these stories up for background one day.)
Anyway, the story is about the mentoring program, the Institute of Excellence, that Ward set up to help in Jasper; it will be led next year by sophomore Mayson Slaughter, who is someone else I think we will hear more from. They need funds for college tours to open eyes to the opportunities available, and they need speakers for these kids, so one can call 205-221-9277 to help.
But Ward had some comments that should be shared here, as we had the chance to ask a very mature, popular student who can talk easily to an adult. He was asked what is on the hearts and minds of students he deals with.
"I would say there is such a feeling among students of inadequacy," Ward said. "Social media has played a pivotable role in that. It's all about how many likes that you get. It's all about students not being as good as whatever they see on social media or Netflix or any given platform really.
"There is a major issue of mental health. That is where I believe words of encouragement come in to play such a strong role. I mean, it's a crisis. It really is. And I don't believe people are addressing it like they should. I think there are so many negative people around here who are just making matters worse. There is no telling how many students go home and do things regarding self harm or who are on the verge of suicidal thoughts. It is a tragedy, really, so I would say that is the biggest thing going through students' minds."
That is not in New York, Atlanta or Birmingham. That's Jasper. I think we need to take heed of that and start considering that problem is at our doorstep. It might save a life in the end.
• And now I need to report on myself, for once, and this is the best place for that. After speaking to Walker County Commission Chairman Jerry Bishop before Monday's commission meeting, I got up just long enough in the public comment section to say that the Daily Mountain Eagle is maybe 80 percent certain we are going to try soon to stream commission meetings on our Facebook page. Other cities and counties (Jasper, Hamilton, Marion County) are getting placed on the web. We could do it live and it could be replayed later.
Mind you, I've dreaded it; I will be 56 on Monday and millennials should be doing this, but Publisher James Phillips and I have heard suggestions for this, and I think the newspaper should lead the way. It's coming, and we might as well admit it.
Mind you, we will start off small, with my new iPhone 7 and a tripod, and maybe a new Bluetooth wireless mic on the table to better pick up voices. With enough interest we might invest in more equipment, and fortunately we do have some younger people at the office to help guide the process; I hope we have other friends in town who will help us out with advice.
For now, I may have to swivel the phone back and forth. The layout for the commission chambers is awful, with that long vertical table separating the commission and the audience and the podium on the audience end. And some speak from the audience. But if we can pick up the voices, that is the main thing. (If people could give me printed PowerPoint visuals, I could hold that up to the lens at the right time.)
Thankfully, I could still run my digital tape recorder to get the meeting for a print story. I might have to step away to sneak a photo here and there, while the video camera still runs, and that's just life. But I think if people will allow us to grow and learn with this, we can make this very useful for the public. We are becoming more and more a digital news operation, and we might as well take the plunge.
For what it is worth, no commissioner spoke up against it. The only one who spoke in the meeting was District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt, who said, "I think it is a good idea. We've talked about it in the past. I think it would be fantastic, especially if the Daily Mountain Eagle wants to produce that. ... It is a matter of putting it in the public eye and communicate to citizens when they have time to do it." He felt the commission has already had success having quarterly night meetings to be more accessible, as he felt participation for those meetings has been good.
So be patient with me as we learn what we can do with this venture.
• Trying to handle the Legislature and its gas tax pretty much wiped me out March 8-9, so I didn't get to go to the Ronald Reagan Dinner in Double Springs. Former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known nationally for his immigration stands, did get to speak, according to the Northwest Alabamian, which reported on the meeting at length. U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, Secretary of State John Merrill, Alabama Republican Party Executive Director Harold Sachs and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore were all there.
Arpaio got a rousing welcome, and the congressman got a resounding applause when he said President Trump would declare a national emergency and have his wall built on the border. Arpaio talked about having his former inmates in a tent city with 130 degrees (saying military people were fighting in those conditions) and also defending his use of chain gangs, including women and juveniles, as a deterrence to crime. He also talked of former President Obama having a fake birth certificate, which was met with applause. (The White House in 2011 released the long-form version of the birth certificate to prove Obama was born in Hawaii and mainstream news organizations have said the accusation of foreign birth is not true.)
• Back on the gas tax, I've had supporters of the tax tell us the process, as we've claimed, was a mess. The Journal Record in Marion County reports Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, told the Marion County Republican Party the day after the House vote that legislators, especially freshmen, were under pressure from Gov. Kay Ivey to vote for the bill.
The paper quoted this: "One of them said that when he sat down with the governor, she said, 'Are you for me or against me?' He said that he was against the tax and told her why. She pulled out a spiral-backed notebook and said, 'You're against me,' and wrote his name down. That's the kind of arm-twisting that was going on, at least with the freshmen House members."
He also said another unnamed representative told Ivey he was undecided. Ivey then mentioned a local highway in that man's district.
"She said, 'Do you want to see that highway in your district finished?'" Stutts said. "He said he would. She said, 'I'll stop it tomorrow. Have you made up your mind yet?'"
• By the way, now it's the feds' turn. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is pushing for a 25-cent increase over five years in the national gas tax to raise $400 million over 10 years for infrastructure projects, the Wall Street Journal reports. President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are open to the idea. The federal tax stands now at 18.4 cents.
• My thanks to Jasper Mayor David O'Mary, as I approached him with what I feel is the need for a published list of places in the commercial areas of Jasper to go to for a tornado. I live upstairs north of the Hobby Lobby area and have nowhere to go, except maybe to drive several minutes over to the Daily Mountain Eagle. The county has lists of shelters everywhere, except Jasper. We need some designated area, and O'Mary said he would consider that. (By the way, if a tornado hits Jasper, the police station has now been designated the command center in advance; if it is hit, it will be the Jasper Civic Center. If both go, a heavy-duty tent situation would go up.)